Winter Gardening Tips
The most important winter task is to take stock of your garden’s successes and failures. Mental notes are good, journal entries are better. There are plenty of mistakes to make, why repeat one?
Did you faithfully fertilize your garden during the growing season? If so, where are the leftovers? Don’t store them on your potting bench or your garden shed; bring them into an area that will remain above freezing. Some liquid fertilizers and pesticides become ineffective after freezing and thawing.
Take advantage of warm winter days; clean up garden debris. Pests and diseases can overwinter on and in dropped fruit, vegetables, leaves and stems. Keep the garden clean and reduce the chance for re-infections. Being neat has the added benefit of reducing the amount of chores necessary in the spring.
When you are cleaning up the garden, don’t cut back the stems of subshrubs: lavender, Russian sage, perennial salvias, etc. The stems provide protection and a bit of insulation for the crown and the dormant buds. Wait till you see new signs of growth in the spring before pruning.
Talk a walk around the garden periodically to check on plants that may have “popped out” of the soil. Fluctuating soil temps – freezing and thawing – can push the perennials and pansies you planted in the fall right out of their holes. Dig the hole a bit deeper, replant and then smooth mulch around the plant’s base. This should keep the plant firmly grounded.
Use branches of pruned evergreens to protect tender perennials from wintry blasts. Maybe your rosemary plant will finally survive the winter!
Careless use of deicing products can damage both the home and the environment. To prevent damage to your home and the environment, choose a deicer carefully. Use deicers according to the directions listed on the package, if possible use even less than is recommended. Do not use fertilizer to melt ice and snow – the nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizer can harm your local streams and the Bay. Plant damage caused by deicers can often be treated by soaking the affected area with 1-inch applications of water three to four times in the spring. As an alternative to deicers – use sand, ashes, or kitty litter to improve traction on icy areas.
Remember to water plants on warm days in January, February and March especially if there has been a dry autumn. Evergreen plants, particularly those planted in the fall, are most susceptible to desiccation.
Remove snow before it can accumulate by sweeping the branches upward with a broom to lift off the snow without further stressing the limbs.
Motivated to grow ‘green’? Use organic seed in next year’s garden. Check with the National Sustainable Information Service (https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/organic_seed/) for a list of suppliers of Certified Organic seed. Several seed catalogs located in Mid-Atlantic States appear on the list, including: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (http://www.southernexposure.com/) in Mineral, Virginia, Landreth Seed Company (www.landrethseeds.com) in Baltimore, Maryland, and Seedway (www.seedway.com) in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.
-Cynthia Brown, Horticulture Collections Management & Education Manager